MOFFATT: No perfect way to collect stormwater fees

(Here’s a note shared by Rideau-Goulbourn Councillor Scott Moffatt today via email.)

“There simply is no perfect way to collect fees on the basis of fairness. Each and every property contributes differently. Short of any perfect solution, we have the proposal before us.”

In March and April of this year, residents were informed of the City of Ottawa’s Water, Sewer and Stormwater Rate Structure Review. Over the course of those two months, we shared much information on the matter and you were very involved in these discussions. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who contacted me, submitted comments to the City and attended the public consultation sessions. The April 7th meeting held in North Gower was attended by approximately 250 residents. 

Your participation and input led to the eventual delay of the report so that your comments could be properly reviewed and taken into account. Since then, staff have been compiling those comments and working with members of Council on finalizing the report and its recommendations. This report, released on Monday of this week, will be presented to the Environment Committee on Tuesday, October 18th at City Hall.

As you may recall from my March 16th column, the history on this issue is incredibly important and stems from amalgamation. Prior to amalgamation, residents across every municipality contributed to stormwater management. Some paid for it through their general taxes, some through a specific stormwater rate and others as part of their sewer bill. The transition board overseeing the implementation of the amalgamated City of Ottawa commissioned a report which provided recommendations on how an amalgamated city could assess properties for stormwater costs. That report recommended cost collection through either the general tax rate or a specific fee charged as a line item on your tax bill. In April of 2001, the Council of the day chose neither. With no explanation given in the minutes of that meeting, Council voted unanimously to shift all stormwater costs to the water and sewer rate. This meant that some residents who used to pay for it no longer did and it also meant that residents who had always been paying for it started paying more. For fifteen years, that is the system the City has been using.

The consultations held in the spring laid out proposals to move away from that system and create a new rate structure where those who receive a service pay for that service. The main objective was to collect $42M across the City through a new stormwater fee, shifting those costs away from the water and sewer rate budget. Of that total, $8M is the amount of money spent on stormwater maintenance in the rural area. The feedback on that proposal was met with much opposition and plenty of input. This brings us to the proposal that is before us today.

Here is a chart demonstrating the proposed rate structure:

This table shows the proposed new rate structure for water, sewer, and stormwater. (Via City of Ottawa.)More detailed information is available at Ottawa.ca.

The proposal includes a tiered approach in assessing properties for stormwater management. The tiers are based on level of service provided. For village residents on water and sewer in communities like Manotick, Richmond and Munster, you will only notice a change in how your bill is presented. There will be a moderate reduction in your bill on an average of $2/month. For property owners on private services, the proposed fee would be $4/month. This is something that you don’t currently pay and it would be paid annually on your tax bill (agricultural and forested lands will be exempt). This is down from the $6 or $7 per month proposal that was floated in the spring. The report also proposed a phasing in of the charge over four years, meaning you would not pay the full amount until 2020. The total amount collected through this charge will be $2M which will go directly toward the $8M spent annually on rural stormwater services.

During the consultation meetings, we also heard concerns about other matters such as infilling of ditches. When all residents contributed toward stormwater services, many of us were permitted to fill in their ditch provided it did not impede drainage. That permission was removed in 2003. As a result of what we heard, the report will recommend a review of the Ditch Alteration Policy with a view to develop a process to, once again, permit the infilling of ditches. This policy review will come to Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee in 2017.

You will likely hear this a few times in the coming weeks but this proposal is not perfect. There simply is no perfect way to collect fees on the basis of fairness. Each and every property contributes differently. Short of any perfect solution, we have the proposal before us. Thanks to your involvement earlier this year, the proposal is better than it was and I appreciate the way you ensured your voice was heard.

This report has been released a week earlier than normal so that we all have an opportunity to look at it and digest the relevant information. Please take some time, have a look at the proposal and feel free to contact me with any questions that you may have. As mentioned, you can find more information at Ottawa.ca. I sit on the Environment Committee and will be there on the 18th of October. If you’d like to address the Committee on this issue, you may do so by emailing Christopher.Zwierzchowski@ottawa.ca.


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